By Ann Marie Curtis, St. Werburgh’s Great War Study Group
Thomas Heaney was born on 29th October 1867 and baptised on the 10th November of the same year at St. Werburgh’s Roman Catholic Church, Chester. He was the son of Patrick and Bridget Heaney (nee Heveran), who were both of Irish descent and lived in the “Irish Quarter” of Chester.
On 15th September 1895, Thomas married Catherine Feeney, daughter of Michael Feeney, at St. Werburgh’s. The couple lived at 5 Fosbrook Street and later at 53 Steven Street in Chester. They brought up their family of 8 children there, and Thomas worked as a general labourer.
In the December 1914 edition of St. Werburgh’s Parish Magazine, where the surnames of volunteers are listed, it states that 2 members of the Heaney family had enlisted. It appears that both Thomas and his eldest son James, who would have been just eighteen at the time, had both volunteered. Thomas joined the Royal Engineers and it is possible that James also joined this regiment, becoming a signaller. Family anecdotal evidence states that Thomas volunteered at an enlistment event in City Road. It is impossible to envisage the feelings of Catherine Heaney at this time, having both her husband and her eldest child volunteer for the army during wartime. Thomas apparently tried to console his wife by saying that they would never send an elderly fellow like himself, abroad – he would be just drilling trainees in this country. How could he be so wrong! Before long Thomas was in France and his son James was at Gallipoli.
Thomas’ enlistment papers have not survived, so details of his army service are minimal. However, his Medal Roll Index Card reveals that he entered France on 5th September 1915 and served for some time at the front. He was home on leave in May 1918 and did not feel well. On Monday 27th May he went to the Central War Hospital in Chester, and later died there. It was probably from one of the various illnesses contracted in the trenches, possibly trench fever.
A Requiem Mass for Heaney was held at St. Werburgh’s on 6th June. Then, according to the Chester Chronicle of Saturday 8th June 1918, Thomas was buried in Overleigh Cemetery, with full military honours. The Cheshire Regimental Band played the ‘Dead March’ and four fellow NCO’s carried the coffin, which was covered by the Union Jack, to the grave. Rev. C. James conducted the service and the ‘Last Post’ was sounded. Sergeant Heaney’s youngest child, Agnes, (sitting on her mother’s knee in the photograph) was not listed as a mourner but she lived in Chester until her death in October 2014, aged almost 102 years, and could remember seeing her grandmother, Thomas’ mother, wearing a black bonnet to go to the funeral.
Thomas’ son James served in the Balkan theatre, at Salonica, Greece. He survived the Great War, married and brought up a family in Chester. Thomas’ younger children were brought up in Chester by their mother and all prospered. Perhaps the most successful of them all was Mary Heaney, (extreme right on the photograph) who became Sheriff of Chester in 1959 and Mayor of Chester in 1964.
The Heaney family are fairly unusual, in that both father and son were on active service abroad in the British Army during the Great War.
Thomas Francis Heaney was entitled to the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal. He is buried in grave 992 of Overleigh Cemetery, Chester. His name is also listed on the WW1 Memorials in the Town Hall and in St. Werburgh’s Church, Chester.